Front Page Sports Football – Review

Title   Front Page Sports Football
Developer  Cyanide
Publisher  Cyanide
Platform  PC
Genre  Sports Strategy
Release Date  October 2nd, 2014
Official Site

For me, the best thing about sport games comes from the stories they can tell. If Front Page Sports Football were telling a tale, it would be the sort that your Great Grandfather recounts at family events; full of aimless diversions, plenty of confusion, characters you’ve never met or even heard of, which takes so long to get to the point that by the time you reach the conclusion, your elderly relative has long forgotten it. Having said that, Front Page Sports Football is hardly your typical football fare, seeing as there aren’t very many men running about and kicking a ball. No, this is American football, so they’re running around kicking each other instead. Also, you’re not in direct control of anyone. Instead, you’re the head honcho in charge of the entire team; you call the plays, control who steps onto the field, how they train, and then just have to hope for the best as your employees do their thing on the field. However, as the boss, success or failure is entirely on your head.

I was disappointed to discover that you’re running blandly unfamiliar (and non-copyrighted) teams like the Kansas City Arrows rather than official NFL teams but, nevertheless, it’s up to you to build that team into a dynasty by drafting, trading, and discovering talent, then training them up to dominate on the field. From the moment you choose your name, a player avatar, the team you want to run (and its name), the colour of the uniform – let’s just call it a brief preparation – the results are all on you.

Unfortunately, problems soon start to rear their head. You begin your coaching career in the pre-season, a few weeks before the draft. You then have to sort out your scouts, draft picks, and check out all potential prospects before the draft takes place. Sadly, you’re just thrown into the deep end with no explanation of how anything works at all. After stumbling through menus until I found the list of hopefuls, I was confronted with an eyewatering variety of unexplained numbers, colours and abbreviations. When the draft finally did roll around, I was expecting to go to a separate screen where I could make my selections, but the next week appeared without any visible change to anything except my roster, on which some new names had magically appeared, apparently without very much input on my side.

The entire experience of building, coaching and guiding your team to victory is conducted through a variety of menus. In the case of drafting, this involved flicking between different screens for training, scouting, and available players. As most of Front Page Sports Football is played through the menus, it was surprising to find that they are very difficult to navigate; I often found myself having to quit out to the main menu in order to get back to the first page just to reach my desired destination. Clicking through three or four layers of pages to find the option that I wanted was a common occurrence, and there was no easy way to just nip back to one that I had been to before – I had to stumble through the whole shebang every time I wanted to change something. With time I got used to the strange structure, but even then I found myself regularly getting lost.

Once you’ve got your suffered through the menus and your team is sorted, you’ve then got to work out your line-ups and get them training. There a few different training options, each of which can be catered further towards specific members or sections of the squad, or even all players of a certain position. Performing those exercises can improve physical or mental attributes of your selected players, which allows you to build the team to play in your preferred style. Personally, I focused on passing and speed, trained my players with an eye on those attributes, and could definitely see the team shift towards those tactics over the course of a season.

That didn’t mean that my team was actually good, and I found that when the regular season rolled around I would quickly amass a win or two alongside half a dozen losses. Despite these results, it was difficult to see how I could improve the team. Depending on whether you choose to take full control of the team during matches by calling every play, or if you choose to be a little more hands off and let things play out as they will, you’re presented with varying amounts of options that should hold the key to improving the the team.

Even if you act on the statistics you get one week, they may have fluctuated wildly by the end of the next match. In my very first game I didn’t miss a single pass, but the completion rates of all my quarterbacks dropped steeply in the weeks that followed, no matter how many focused training sessions I provided them or the receivers who were literally dropping the ball. It was as if the computer had decided that my team were passing too well and slammed nerfs on all my players, so I couldn’t improve those ratings for the rest of the season no matter what I did. As I had built my team focused heavily on that tactic, I finished my first season with a horrific record.

Those discouraging results brought into sharp focus how long it takes for anything to happen. After three hours I had only suffered through the first four matches of the official season, with well over half of it still to play. I would have understood it were I running each play, but after the first pre-season match that I wrecked, thanks to my terrible calling, I had instead chosen to stand by my preparation and simulate the rest, letting the results play out naturally. The action sped up a little as I became more comfortable with the ins and outs of how I wanted to run the team, but finishing that first losing season was a massive time commitment that saw me watching loading notifications more than I did anything else.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a huge well of knowledge when it comes to American football, but I do take a passing interest in it and have a good understanding of the sport. Even so, the sheer amount of statistics that you’re expected to assimilate and draw conclusions from was intimidating and bluntly unfriendly, and that’s not even mentioning the walls of jargon and player analysis that Front Page Sports Football throws at you. For the true American football nut this is probably perfect – if a bit raw – and even for me it was clear that there was potentially a really fun experience lurking somewhere behind the incomprehensible menus and the endless loading screens. More than anything else, however, I was underwhelmed by the lack of passion.

Rather than any attempt to find and highlight the stories that naturally evolve on the sports field, you are instead met with statistics which are ceaseless hurled at you, and which become, essentially, meaningless because they’re about teams and players that you don’t care about. Long loading times slowly suck the fun out of discovering and grooming new talent until you have a team that can take on the world, and within a few in-game years I found myself looking forward to the end of the seasons, just so they were finally over with. It was nice to see players that I had plucked from obscurity begin to take their place in the line-ups and contribute, but seeing them finally blossom into good players wasn’t enough to compensate for the years of losing I had to suffer through.

More than anything, it felt as though Cyanide had sent the game into the big wide world before it was quite ready. Crashes, frequent spelling mistakes and endless loading times made the experience feel shoddy, and one glitch I encountered sent me into a state of perma-crash and forced me to restart my coaching career; thankfully, it happened only partway through my first season. It all combined to leave Front Page Sports Football feeling passionless and, in the end, a disappointing experience.

  • It’s an American football manager sim, so if that’s your thing then it’s got you covered
  • Your team does (eventually) reflect your style
  • Plenty of customization options...
  • ...because the teams are bland fakes
  • Endless loading and occasional crashes
  • For a game designed around menus, they’re pretty awful
  • Completely passionless

The fact that the developers of Front Page Sports Football have been under a massive amount of pressure to release updates should tell you a lot about the game's current state. There's potential for it to be really fun, but at the moment it's buried under a ton of issues. It’s messy, it’s slow, and it’s confusing but, worst of all, it’s pretty much devoid of any joy. At times it can feel like you are actually getting somewhere with your team, but the pleasure in running a roster is slowly drained away by the endless barrage of bland statistics. Videogames should be fun, but at the moment this one really isn’t. At times it almost gets there. Almost, but not quite.

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